AP reporter James LaPorta fired after ‘glaring’ error

NEW YORK – The Associated Press has fired a journalist and is revising its standards for using anonymous sourcing following a “glaring” error in a story about a deadly missile strike that killed two people in Poland .

National security reporter James LaPorta was fired after he was seen as the main culprit behind a Nov. 15 news report that falsely claimed Russian missiles carried out the attack, according to people in the news. ‘AP aware of the decision. They requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters and internal operations.

In fact, it is widely believed that Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles fired by Ukraine were responsible for the deadly encounter in the NATO country.

LaPorta, who had worked at AP since 2020, said Tuesday that “I would like to comment on the file, but the AP has ordered me not to comment.”

AP would be the first news agency outside Polish media to report on the strike itself last week. The mistake of blaming Russia was particularly damaging because of the danger involved given NATO’s commitment to respond to an attack on a member nation.

“We’re looking at all the egregious mistakes that are made,” Julie Pace, AP senior vice president and editor-in-chief, said of last week’s mistake. “We take our standards very seriously. If we fail to meet our standards, we have no choice but to act. Trust in the PA and trust in our report is paramount.

The initial report was attributed to a “senior US intelligence official”, with no explanation as to why the person was granted anonymity. A reason for anonymity is required by AP policy. The story was later updated to add that the official was not named due to the sensitive nature of the situation.

The AP tries to avoid confidential sources, in accordance with its statement of principles, and establishes strict guidelines for their use. For example, a journalist must obtain approval from a news editor who knows the identity of the source in order to use it in an article – a process known as “source checking”.

In this case, LaPorta said in an internal message to Slack that his source was verified by Ron Nixon, AP vice president and head of investigations, businesses, partnerships and grants. But Nixon said he didn’t know the source was being used for that particular story and development, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

PA policies also require a second source to corroborate information received through confidential sources, although exceptions are granted on a case-by-case basis.

Other disciplinary measures have been taken, according to the company, which did not give details on Tuesday afternoon. The AP looks at all aspects of the story and how it was handled, and how the material got to the wire, Pace said.

“Any time we have a mistake, and certainly a mistake of this magnitude, we have to stop,” Pace said. “We need to make sure we have the right policies around anonymous sources and reporting of sensitive information, and we need to make sure our staff are properly trained and clearly understand how to implement those standards.”

AP Standards Editor John Daniszewski on Tuesday sent a memo to all AP reporters reminding them of the standards for using anonymous sources, saying the guidelines “should be known to all reporters. and AP editors”.

He noted that the AP’s exception to its two-source rule arises when the material offered comes directly from an authoritative figure in a position to know, with information so detailed that there is no doubt about it. their accuracy.

While the rules are simple, “they can become confusing if stories from anonymous sources are put directly into a Slack channel or a conversation with other editors and reporters piecing together a piece of AP journalism, especially in a situation of news,” Daniszewski wrote.

Internal AP messaging from that day included a brief discussion of the need for a second source.

As the day progressed, the story was updated, including adding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s false blame to the Russians for the Polish incident. Eventually, the AP report described the incident by reporting the Polish Foreign Ministry’s statement that it was a Russian-made missile.

The AP issued an official correction to its story the next day.

The story contained the byline of a second AP reporter, John Leicester, who chronicled a series of Russian attacks in Ukraine that day. Leicester, stationed in Kyiv when the story broke, are not facing any disciplinary action as they had nothing to do with the anonymous information about the Polish attack that was inserted into the story.

The incident is a particularly stark reminder – given the potential consequences – of the need for journalists to be careful in “fog of war” situations, said William Muck, professor of political science at North Central College in the United States. Illinois.

“We forget that the nature of conflict is that there’s a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty,” Muck said. “There is reason to be careful and to slow things down.”

David Bauder is the Associated Press’ media editor.


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